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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Dust Devils Highly Charged, Dangerous

An artist's conception of a Martian dust devil.
An artist's conception of a Martian dust devil.
Credit: University of Michigan
In a surprise finding, researchers studying terrestrial dust devils have discovered that they contain high-powered electric fields exceeding 4,000 volts per meter. Apparently, as particles in the dust devil rub together, they collect an electric charge. Smaller particles are more likely to develop a negative charge than larger particles. The smaller particles rise as the heavy particles sink to the bottom, creating an electric potential between the top and bottom of the dust devil.

For Martian exploration, that's bad news. Dust devils dwarfing the ones found on Earth have been detected on Mars, and sometimes large regional dust storms develop, which may grow to encompass the entire planet. The charged nature of the dust devils can cause lightning, interference with radio communications, and perhaps worst, increased amounts of dust to stick to spacesuits and materials, which could lead to respiratory and equipment failures. More information will be needed to determine if the same phenomenon takes place on Mars, and whether other types of weather patterns are affected by it.

(More info:

- posted by Brian @ 21:12 EST